Somehow I’d managed to miss my previous opportunities to attend a press conference with Jack Nicklaus. I remember last year here (at the Honda Classic) I was super pumped for the chance and then super disappointed because I got caught up in
casual chat an interview, forgot or something else stupid silly less important. Same thing at the Memorial. Well, not this time at PGA National! — and it was just as enjoyable and engaging (with comical moments).
After the official presser, which was streamed live online, Jack held court to a group of us that had gathered around to listen to his analysis and opinions — he was like Santa Claus or a grandpa with all the little kids entranced in him telling the great story ever — where he shared some of the more intriguing bits. His PR guy kept trying to break to end it (because it’s his job
to be a pest and they had other commitments), but Jack ignored him or would make a comment (not meant to be amusing per se but caused bursts of laughter) that meant “whatever, I don’t care, I’m going to do what I feel like doing.” (something that you rarely see when it comes to dealing with us annoying, nosy media people).
Without further ado, here are the highlights, along with his comments that can’t be found in the transcript…Oh, if you’re not an ultra-golf geek and don’t care about super-golfy stuff, like bifurcation — I’m sure some of you guys are thinking, “What the hell does that even mean — then I’d scroll down until you see “BONUS” section.
*On whether belly/long putters should be banned: “Still got to knock it in the hole. (Ed. note: /shrugging, almost eyes rolling) That’s the only way I look at it. I thought, you know, when they outlawed between the leg, the Bob Duden putter, 40 years ago or something, how many people are going to putt that way? They didn’t think it looked golf-like. Sam (Snead) figured it out, he went this way (indicating motion from the side) with it, rather than this way (indicating croquet-style motion, between the legs).
“I’m not offended by it. I always feel like the game is a game that is a very difficult game to start with. You try to figure out, how do you get the ball in the hole. As long as you’re using a legal stroke and a legal club what you’re saying, is the club legal. I mean, how many majors have been won with these putters? I guess Keegan (Bradley) uses one. Is he the only one that’s ever won a major with that? So I guess it’s just been a rampage that’s won so many tournaments with it; a flood on the market. (Laughing).
“I’m surprised they didn’t ban that big putter I used in the Masters in ’86. We sold a lot of them. I don’t have an issue one way or the other with it.”
*On bifurcation (having a different set of rules for the amateurs and the pros): “It’s not the question, there’s a different set of rules. The ball just allows there to be a different game…
“I think that the USGA and the R&A would like to have one set of rules. I think that’s what the game should be played with, one set of rules. I think it’s better. We have always had and I don’t know what the right word is in the rule book, is it the appendix. That has local rules that are put in. We have always had extra rules.
“They could do whatever they want as far as local rules. And you know, that’s okay. They do it every week. So they are not really playing by the same rules anyway. But to go a long way away, that the amateurs play with one set of clubs, and the pros play with the others permanently, I don’t think is the right way to do it. As much as I would like to see the golf ball adjusted, I would hate to see them have two golf balls. I think it’s right to play with one.
“You know, it’s a difficult question to answer, because we have a game that and you keep going back, and everybody always says when they play, was the right time to play, but the game is just a different game today. There’s nothing wrong with the game today. And when I played, if I would play with an amateur at his club, and we both played from the back tees, I might outhit him 15 or 20 yards. It wasn’t a big deal. You play with him today, the guys outhitting 100 yards. It’s not even close to a contest. They are playing with the same equipment.
“Something’s different. And whether it’s the golf ball or the club or a combination; the only issue that I have always had with this thing is that the Tour is a showcase of the game, and the Tour should be the example of how the game should be played for the average golfer. And when the average golfer cannot relate to the game that the Tour guy is playing, how can you say it’s the same game. Now, people want to come out and watch it, because it’s exciting because they can’t do it. But what I always thought was the excitement was being able to come out and play this game that on any given day, if I were an amateur, I could go out and do what Tiger does or do what Phil does. They can’t do that.”
*On trying to grow the game, along with his
slightly absurd 12-hole, six-day tournament idea: “There’s some reason why we are losing people in the game, too. Why are we losing people in the game? We’ve lost 23 percent of the women and 36 percent of the kids since 2006. You’ve heard these statistics before. And there’s a reason why we are losing them. The TOUR is the showcase. The Tour has got to be the place that helps us correct that. The game, the people out there that are dropping out of the game are the people that are paying these guys to play. That’s the public. So we don’t want to be running the public out of the game. We want to keep the public in the game.
“And the Play Golf Forward, I’ve been fiddling around with a variety of things; I’m a little far out with that, but that’s okay. It’s an idea of trying to keep people in the game with the 12 holes, bigger holes, all that kind of stuff. We are not trying to change the game. The game is a great game. But you get a lady who doesn’t play very much and you get a 10yearold kid, they need some success to stay in the game. They need to have success. And so how do we get some success? How do we help them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. I think that’s the thing that equipment has done is changed that a little bit.
“What are the three biggest things we have? The game takes too long, the game is too hard and it’s too expensive. Those are the three major things. I’m trying to talk Tim and I talked to him about a year ago and he sort of pooh-poohed me about the 12-hole golf. And he came back to me at the Masters last year and he says, you know, we are going to do more with this 12hole golf. I’m going to do something with it. Hasn’t done anything yet, but he has it in his head. And he likes it for First Tee because they have two sixes, and makes a lot less time for First Tee.
“I said, Tim, what would be the difference we have to legitimize, if you are going to have people play 12-hole golf, you have to play golf in 2 1/2 hours. Every other sport is played in less than three hours. If we can do that, why can’t we play a tournament where we play six 12-hole rounds? You just play a round and a half a day. You score it differently is all. You wake up in the morning and you see where you’ve shot a 46 and a 23 and you shot 69 for the day as total number of strokes. It’s just how you score it, legitimize it, to get people to think about the game in a different way. I hope he’ll do it. He doesn’t have to change a darn thing he’s doing. Am I answering what you’re asking me? I mean, I can continue on this for 45 hours if you want, you know that.”
[Ed. note: Jack loves to share his opinions and we love to listen.]
*On Keegan Bradley, among others, seeking him for advice and sitting down for lunch: “You know, he’ll ask me questions about what he wants to talk about. And I don’t know what I’ll tell him. I mean, I’ll make up something. It will sound good. I’ve had some success. I have a young gal, matter of fact I’m going to play golf with her on Thursday, Jessica Korda, who won the tournament down in Australia. She came by with her father about six weeks ago and came and picked my brain and so forth and so on, and goes off and wins a golf tournament. Huh?
“And Rory (McIlroy) did (at Quail Hollow in 2010), and (Trevor) Immelman came to me before he won the Masters (in 2008), and (Charl) Schwartzel (before the Masters last year). I’m sitting there, I said, what am I telling hem? Maybe I’d better write this down.
“But I think that people learn from somebody who has done it. And there’s many different ways to do it. And I think that the thing that I try to impress upon these kids is that each one is an individual and everybody does things differently. But you’ve got to figure out who you are, what you are, why you are, and how do you do things. And you’ve got to learn how to do that your way and how do you play within yourself; how do you get it in your brain that when you come down the stretch, you’re not going to worry about whether if I’m with Keegan Bradley or whether it’s McIlroy or Woods or Schwartzel or whatever names are on the board, you never worry about that. Just like I never worried about whether it was (Arnold) Palmer or (Gary) Player. I had to worry about me. I’m the only guy that I can control. So you have to figure out, how do you do that. And everybody is going to be different how they do that.
“So I’ve got to get into their head to find out what they are thinking, so I can tell them what I think they ought to how they can do it. I didn’t think I would ever be a psyche coach, I’m telling you, no idea. But it’s actually kind of fun to see these kids come and try to be able to help them and see them have some success.”
[Ed. note: Hey guys and gals, if you’re having trouble getting your first big win or want to win a major, set up a time to have lunch with Jack.]
*On holding the lead going into the final round at a major (while poking fun at the media): I’m just going to copy and paste the back-and-forth from the transcript here..
Q. Of the three majors …(Jack interrupts)
JACK NICKLAUS: Incidentally, I saw you last week. I was proud of you. I saw you on the golf course. I said, “I saw a press guy on the golf course, I’m very proud.”
Q. (Moans, groans and cat calls from members of the media in audience).
JACK NICKLAUS: I know there’s more out there than there used to be.
Q. I was just looking for a hot dog. Seeing the U.S. Open the way its set up, the links golf, and Augusta National, which do you think would be the hardest for a young kid to take a lead into the final round, pretty decent lead into the final round?
JACK NICKLAUS: Taking a lead into the last round.
Q. Trying to win his first major.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I’m not so sure. I think you ought to include the PGA in that, because the PGA you don’t have the weather usually. The weather at the PGA is fairly benign. So to take a lead in the PGA Championship, you’re not going to have a weather issue usually that’s going to cause something to be different; whereas the Masters, you can have a perfect Saturday and a gale on Sunday. U.S. Open can have similar because it’s coming out of spring and of course the British Open, you never know what you’re going to have.
Frankly, if I had the lead, I would welcome the bad weather day. Because the bad weather day, really, if you’re behind, it’s really difficult to shoot a good score. And generally speaking if your golf game is pretty good, you can figure some way to hack it around if you have a lead somehow, because nobody is going to come up with that. PGA would be difficult.
Q. Did you ever lose a lead, blow a lead on the last day in a major?
JACK NICKLAUS: Sure. I think I led, what, 12 times, won ten of them. So I must have done it twice.
*On losing the ’77 Masters after being tied for the lead going into the 72nd hole: “(Tom Watson and I) were tied and I was on 18 and he was on 17 and we were tied. I’m sitting in the middle of the fairway, 156 yards to the hole, and I heard this yell go up, and pin was the front left, and that was the only time in my playing career that I couldn’t regather myself and change my thought pattern. I had a 6-iron in my hand, planning to play it by the hole to the right and have it coming back and have that 15-foot putt right of the hole to win the golf tournament.
“I tried to stuff it in, hit it fat, hit in the bunker and let Watson play the last hole any way he wanted, which was really stupid. I mean, here I am, 37 years old and I still make a dumb mistake like that. So it’s one of the few that I can turn around and kick myself for what I did.
THE BONUS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM
*On Tiger breaking Jack’s majors record: “It’s been what, two and a half years (since he last won an official tournament)? These (young) guys will learn how to win. They’re probably no longer afraid of Tiger. In my opinion I still think Tiger will regain what he does, he will come back and play very, very well, whether he’ll break my record or not, that’s another issue — I still think he probably will.
“He still has to go do it. He not only has to do it, he has to have more than any other guy that’s playing today. So that’s a pretty good task. What is he? 36? So that’s a task. How many majors did I win past 36? I won four.”
*On Tiger’s competition today compared to the pre-scandal years: “That’s my point — he didn’t have a lot of competition with guys who knew how to win prior to now. Phil on occasion — Phil is the closest thing he’s had to a rival. Ernie won a couple of tournaments and Vijay (Singh), too. But they’re older now. Ernie’s in his 40s. Vijay’s in his 40s. You’re not talking about 21, 22, 23, 24 years old. These are young kids that are going to be around a long time that he’s playing against. Will he win again? Sure, he’s too good of a player not to win. Will he win as prolific as he did before? Probably not.”
*On whether he ever lost his putting stroke and his theory on why his contemporaries and elders may have (Ed. note: He’s not condemning or judging their way of life, just telling us the way things were): “Most of the guys were club pros (way back in the day, like the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. etc.). Their life was playing golf maybe 20 weeks a year and their usual thing was to come in after a round of golf, have a drink, socialize and they did that when they played tournaments.
“I always felt that drinking does not go well with nerves. The guys today don’t do that. I don’t think you see that. I never did that. I mean, did I have a drink? Sure, I’d have a drink now and again, but never while I was playing in tournaments. I always thought it was terrible for your touch and your nerves. I don’t think guys did it for their nerves, it was just a social way of life. Guys today take the game more as athletes in a different way and I pretty much took it that way. I never lost my putting stroke. I’m still just as quiet over a putt as when I was 25.
I’m not saying these guys were drinkers, I’m just saying (drinking) was part of their life, part of their culture, the social norm. It’s not part of the culture now. You don’t hear about the yips anymore, do you? The only guy that I’ve seen had the yips who I know is not a drinker is (Bernhard) Langer and he’s overcome it.”
*On difficulty of regaining your short game after you’ve lost it (in other words, Tiger’s putting woes and getting beat on the reg): If you lose your confidence in putting or chipping? It’s very tough (to rebuild)… I haven’t watched Tiger enough to know what he’s doing, but I know he’s not putting like he was. But he seems to be hitting the ball the way he was. He’s gotten wild on occasions. But you don’t win 3 U.S. Opens and not figure out how to control the golf ball. He may hit some wild shots, but he’s always figured out a way to control the golf ball — he always has. He’s too talented.
“You don’t always learn the ability to make that six-footer every time you need it. And he made that six-footer EVERY time he needed it. In Presidents Cups I was involved in or whatever — when he had to make a putt, bam. I’ve seen it on numerous occasions. It’s fantastic. Like the last (U.S.) Open he won at San Diego (in 2008). Then all of a sudden you don’t make those putts. The first time that someone contended with him was Y.E. Yang, who actually down the stretch beat him. Nobody’s ever beaten him down the stretch before. It wasn’t so much that Tiger did something wrong. It was that someone else actually did something right. That’s a big difference.
“He had never had that happen before. Some of these other guys will do that (to Tiger now). He can’t do anything about other people. All he can do is what he can do and for him to go back and win again, he’ll have to figure out that he’s a different person today than he was five years ago. I mean, I was a different person when I was 25 years old than when I was 35 years old. I had to learn how to play because I didn’t have the strength I did when I was 35 as I did when I was 25 — I couldn’t overpower the golf course (anymore), I had to play within it.
I’ve got great respect for Tiger’s golf game and I think it’ll be back. (He’s looking for a win) — something to give him the confidence to move to the next step…If he wins the Masters this year, he’s back on his run again.”
Well, hope you all found that as interesting as I did. It was a real treat. Thanks for your time, Jack. You’re the best.